I really just wanted to call this The Paris Dump. Because I can't promise you that this is going to be anything more than a travelogue. What I can promise you, is a lot of pictures of my children in various stages of whining throughout the city of Paris. Good times.
So, let's talk about traveling with kids. It's hard. It takes some planning. And it involves sacrificing anything you want to do, for something that will shut them up. Luckily, in a place like Paris, crepes and nutella does the job and it works for erasing my annoyance as well. For a few minutes anyway. But seriously, we did some things right and we did some things that we would change.
The first thing that worked out well for us was booking a flat through Airbnb. I've used a similar site in the past (VRBO) for booking stuff in the states, and was pretty comfortable with the idea and the process. It saved us money and gave us more space. We would have needed 2 hotel rooms, and for the hotels we looked at, it would have cost us about 480 euros a night for those 2 rooms - totaling approximately 2000 euros for our 4 night stay. We spent less than half of that for a 3 bedroom (plus loft) flat in a centrally located neighborhood. Everyone had their own bed, their own space, and we had a full kitchen so that we could make quick meals without going out. Staying at this place also meant we had laundry facilities, which allowed us to pack light. On top of that, this was somebody's house that had children, so there was plenty of kid stuff. So no jumping on beds and climbing on me while I throw fast food at them. What? Don't tell me that hasn't happened to you. Another bonus was QUIET. The residential area meant that we didn't hear elevators or drunken revelers at all during our stay.
We prepped a bit by looking over Paris maps and a few books geared at kids. I ended up using the Paris citywalk guides the most. Cal and I went through them with the kids before we left and chose just 5-6 things we wanted to see or do. I knew there was no way we were going to manage 3-4 sights a day, so we went into it with the idea that we would only try for one thing a day and then bring back up plans if we felt like doing more or if things went south. Which did happen due to the weather a couple of times. What we did not adequately prepare for was French. Next time, we need more phrases and better pronunciation at the very least. But next time, we will not stay for 5 days. 5 days was too long for the kids, hence also too long for the adults. 3 days would have been better.
We are obviously accustomed to using public transportation in London, so we chose to do the same in Paris, and with the aid of the best app ever, Citymapper, we got around just fine. Plus, I think the metro is easier to navigate than the tube - if only for the fact that the lines are numbered instead of given names. Sure, we can't read French, but all you need to know is SORTIE. And you figure that out pretty fast. (Another good app to use that we found about halfway through our trip was Word Lens. It translates text through your camera lens and is useful for navigating the streets and, most importantly, menus.) Our kids were used to it as well, and it was only the time we were repeatedly smashed by metro doors at the Louvre, that they complained about our method of transportation. And since my arm was taking the brunt of the impact, I had to agree.
What I didn't expect was how scared all three of the kids would be about visiting a country with a different language. They were visibly anxious and stuck to us like Velcro for a few hours, constantly fearing people walking by and asking to go home. And nothing bad happened - no muggings, no one screamed at us in French, we didn't get lost, nothing. They calmed down a bit, but I still find it kind of embarrassing that they were so troubled by the concept of being a foreigner. I mean seriously, what kind of expat children am I raising?
Anyway, I've got to be boring you because I am boring myself. I'm not going to give you the itinerary, you'll be able to figure out where we are in most of these photos. But I will give you just a bit of my impressions of Paris (because visiting a place for 4 days definitely makes me some kind of authority on the subject. #touristmindset).
Paris is only romantic if you are not traveling with children and you have a lot of money to spend on nice hotels and restaurants. Like other big cities, it's bustling and brisk, and completely oblivious to you until you get in the way. Paris is also really dirty. I thought I wouldn't notice it after being in London for a while, but no, I still noticed the garbage, the run down buildings, the graffiti, the back alleys, and the smell of urine in the metro. And there's the smoking. So much smoking. I know it's kind of the joke to make, but really it sort of concerns me. There's some solid people watching in Paris, as you would expect. The women are all put together, but I find I don't notice the women in Paris because they are quite boring and safe with their fashion choices. They look great, but they all look somewhat the same to me. Now the men, that's something else. I absolutely love seeing what the men are wearing - avant garde menswear that you just couldn't pull off anywhere else - men that looked like they stepped right off the runway. There's also a distinctly Parisian urban look that I can't quite put my finger on - like casual luxe, or like they're all part of Kanye's entourage.
Then there's the language thing. You're kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. I understand the importance of trying to speak French first, but it's hilarious how offended they are by your attempt and then conversely the contempt with which they hold you if you start off in English. It's not always the case, and we had plenty of lovely encounters, but we also had very stereotypical reactions to our American-ness, including a fun little lecture from an employee at Palais de Tokyo about how we did not understand the concept of a modern art museum. (Can you see my eye roll from where you are?) More so on this trip than our last, so I'm blaming it on the children.
Paris is culture. That's it. End of story. Culture on steroids. The art, the fashion, the architecture, the food - Paris lives up to its reputation. I could really just spend my time there looking at the buildings alone. It's just amazing. This is the first time I saw Palais Garnier (home of the Paris Opera) and all I could do was just stand there and try to absorb it all. And food - the crepes and croissants - the patisseries - so many wonderful carbs to behold. I'm sure the fine dining experiences are life altering as well, but you know, kids. Like so many destinations, we only just scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. Next time though, I'm not going around Christmas time - it was a madhouse, and I'm avoiding any more human stampedes.
What's that? Oh yes, we almost got crushed to death on a street behind the Sacre Coeur. I'm not exaggerating. I thought something terrible was going to happen. I don't know why it was so crowded on the tiny street - there wasn't an event or anything. Perhaps it was just from all of the tourists visiting. Anyway, we walked behind the basilica to find something to eat and it seemed a bit jammed, but we figured it would work itself out. Well, the tiny street was lined with shop and displays and food vendors. The people filled the entire road, which I did not know was an actual road until the cars started nudging and honking people out of the way. As the cars surged through we got caught - shoulder to shoulder - front to back - a literal human traffic jam. I got separated from Cal, who had the big kids, and I was holding onto Holland like a lifeline. No one seemed to be panicking. I started deep breathing to control my impulse to start screaming and shoving people. I could see a man standing on a cafe table taking a video of the situation, which leads me to believe if I searched youtube I might find footage, but at the time I was too worried about dying to capture the moment myself. It got to the point where a small van had wedged me and Holland (and several strangers) between the giant burning pans of the food vendors and the side of the van. It was brushing my coat, and sometimes without warning, it would go in reverse.
I pick Holland up because I realize she could easily be pushed under the vehicle. So I scoop her up and try to get to the other side of the street to get around the van. That's when another car comes up behind and starts pinning people between the vehicles. SERIOUSLY. I manage to cross the street and find Cal, who takes Holland and I grab hold of Finley. The girls are on the verge of tears and Eli's eyes are popping out of his head. Finley tells me she wants to start pushing to get out of the crowd, and I tell her that we may just have to do that. The shop displays are being knocked over, people keep trying to move in opposite directions, and I keep practicing impulse control. We weave like a snake to the other side. I pushed and pulled and touched a lot of unknown people. It took about 15 minutes to travel the length of about 6 shops. But we made it out. And the best part? We had food in our hands - crepes for the kids, and I had this giant sausage on a baguette. And you know what? It was probably the best sausage I've ever eaten. I think because I bonded to it during my trauma.
Now, more photos (click to enlarge). No more stories. Except that I have to tell you that when Cal was buying metro tickets, he kept trying to speak Spanish to the man working at the information booth. BWAHAHAHAHA! We all made fun of him and bring it up every other day.
I'm guessing that our kids will remember their trip to Paris as a harrowing experience in which they ate lots of things covered in nutella. And really, how bad is that?